BOONE COUNTY - The COVID-19 pandemic is a rollercoaster of both emotions and data points.
Boone County is seeing another spike in the COVID-19 positivity rate. The positivity rate currently rests at 16.8%, which is nearly doubled from two weeks ago at 7.7%. Since early September the county has seen peaks and valleys along the positivity rate. The current rate is the highest it's been since mid-February.
Like a rollercoaster, the positivity rate can go up, down and even plateau for a period of time. But there are different safety measures in place during an April spike compared to a November spike nearly five months ago.
Laura Morris is a doctor at MU Health Care and the co-chair of the vaccine committee. She explained how the recent trends reflect an amusement park ride, without any of the amusement.
"There is a rollercoaster aspect to all of this," Dr. Morris said. "We did a really great job of getting people vaccinated and getting the numbers to drop, but now people are socializing with each other differently and we're starting to see those COVID numbers climb back up."
In November, Boone County saw one of the highest positivity rate spikes of the pandemic following a surge in cases from the Halloween weekend. On Nov. 6, the positivity rate sat at 33.9%. At this point in time, there were no vaccines to be distributed for protection against COVID-19.
Five months later, there are safety measures in place for another possible COVID-19 case spike. Missouri moved into Phase 3 on Friday for vaccine distribution, allowing every Missourian over 16 to get a vaccine. The state is still on the COVID-19 rollercoaster, but now seatbelts are able to protect us on the ride.
Dr. Robin Blount is the Chief Medical Officer at Boone Hospital Center. She explained how the vaccine protects from an increase in hospitalizations with a case spike.
"I guess we could say the vaccine is a seatbelt because it's certainly a very important component here," Dr. Blount said. "These vaccines are highly effective at preventing serious disease, nearly 100% effective in preventing deaths as well as hospitalizations."
During Boone County's last spike in mid-February, 13.1% of residents received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. As of last Friday, 36.9% of Boone County residents have started the vaccination process. The county is leading the state in vaccination rates among residents.
Hospitals in mid-Missouri prepared for COVID-19 case and hospitalization surges in January following Christmas and New Year's celebrations. Morris explained how MU Health Care isn't seeing a current increase in hospitalizations with a positive rate surge.
"The vaccine is putting breaks on the coaster so that it won't be able to reach its highest peak because vaccinations will slow down the transmission," Dr. Morris said. "We have not seen an increase in our hospitalization rates so we don't anticipate right now that we need to make a ton of changes."
If the COVID-19 positivity rate is a rollercoaster, the number of cases and tests are the engine behind the ride. There is a decrease of COVID-19 testing in Boone County with institutions like Boone Hospital. In March, the hospital closed its mass drive-thru testing site.
Dr. Blount explained how a decrease in testing doesn't affect the positivity rate.
"You can always get tested, we just don't have drive thrus anymore because there wasn't the volume to do so," Dr. Blount said. "It's hard to say that the closing of testing sites is really affecting the positivity rate."
The pandemic is putting everyone through a rollercoaster year, with constantly changing guidelines and the overall desire to get back to normal. It's a rollercoaster everyone certainly wants to get off.
"Rollercoasters are a reasonable analogy to all of this," Dr. Blount said. "The main thing is you don't want to keep going up that hill and right now we are seeing some increases."
Officials still recommend social distancing and wearing a mask, even if you're fully vaccinated against COVID-19. KOMU 8 has an entire page dedicated to COVID-19 information and vaccine rollout information.